It wouldn’t be fair to evaluate Goat Post Tropical Grill in terms of a Jamaican restaurant, in spite of the fact that the main reason to stop by involves the restaurant’s Jamaican fare. This comely little place does breakfast, Mexican specialties and American-style sandwiches, so the kitchen is quite ambitious. And to quote Marc Antony, when he eulogized Julius Caesar, ambition can be (in this case only sometimes) a grievous fault.
The city’s one purely Jamaican restaurant, Tasty Island, has foods such as Jamaican bean and flour dumpling soup, escovietched fish and ackee and saltfish every day. Goat Post isn’t able to deliver on that, nor is their jerk chicken actual barbecue with a jerk spice rub. But they do have ackee and saltfish on the specials board occasionally, and the prices, for what you get, are close to rock bottom.
I find it admirable that this restaurant makes its own Jamaican patties, and for anyone who doesn’t know what that means, you are in for a treat. Patties are the national snack in that country, mustard yellow, Pop Tart-sized pastries that fairly ooze liquefied meat in the center. The yellow tinge comes from annatto seeds, and there are patty stands everywhere on the island.
But these are different. For one thing, they are made from flaky puff dough. Secondly, they have a more generous amount of meat filling than traditional patties, which means that two of them make a perfect-sized appetizer for two. These patties kick like a mule, and go perfectly with beer. But you could also wash them down with a bottle of ginger beer, like they do down Kingston way, mon. Think ginger ale, times 10.
There are also codfish fritters, shrimp egg rolls and guacamole on the appetizer menu. The first time I visited, the complimentary bean dip was so good on the fresh, hot tortilla chips that I ate two bowls, and shot myself in the foot with regard to doing my job correctly.
So learning my lesson, I went back, with moderation in mind. It wasn’t quite necessary.
Gallo pinto, which the menu refers to as Nicaraguan breakfast, is also a specialty of the neighboring country of Costa Rica, where I got absolutely hooked on it. It’s a variation of the rice and bean dishes eaten all over the world, except that you put a fried egg on it.
I’m not trying to quibble, but gallo is Spanish for “rooster.” The thing that got me hooked on gallo pinto in the first place is that the rice, at least in Central America, is simmered in chicken broth. They don’t do that here, but when they do, I’ll be back, with a vengeance.
Instead, my breakfast of choice would be a giant egg and chorizo burrito, or the classic huevos rancheros, both menu favorites here.
The lunch and dinner portion of the menu is substantial, and goat, a favorite in Mexico and Jamaica, plays a big part in it. I eschewed the jerk goat and goat curry in favor of the goat barbacoa, an item from the specials board. The meat was gamy and chewy, not at all like lamb, the way goat is often described. This version, purely Mexican, from a sofrito of onions and celery mixed into the shredded hunks of flavorful meat, came with rice and beans, just as it generally does in a true Mexican restaurant.
Now the server, a Jamaican who doubles as a counterman (and possibly does kitchen duty as well), sort of warned me that the jerk chicken wasn’t real jerk chicken. Still, it was the one big disappointment here. If you haven’t had real jerk chicken, it is one of the Caribbean’s greatest dishes, spice-rubbed, fiery meat cooked over a real charcoal flame.
Jerk spices are based on allspice, which is an actual berry, not a spice mixture, but the best jerk pits mix their own spice rub, which generally includes searing hot Scotch bonnet peppers, clove, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and heaven knows what else. I once spent a week driving around Jamaica just to hit all the jerk pits I could find, and it was one of the best vacations I ever had.
So the menu touts jerk chicken and jerk pork, but the “jerk” turns out to be a thick brown gravy, and my chicken (I didn’t even try the pork) had the texture of boiled meat finished in an oven. I realize that this is a small place, and there is probably no room for a grill in the kitchen. Still, my feeling is, why bother?
By all means, though, bother with dessert. Guava or plantain turnovers are delicious, in that same flaky pastry used for the patties, and so is, when they have it, gooey tres leches, a three-milk cake as juicy as a ripe grapefruit. For low-priced, reasonably exotic, tropical eating, Goat Post Tropical Grill probably fills the bill.